Speaking of music and songs, I like to harken back to the late 60s and early 70s. Growing up, I was fascinated by Bollywood movies, who wasn’t back then? They were the only forms of entertainment during those days, and in my grandfather I found one of the biggest fans of Bollywood movies. Every movie he watched, I was with him. I cannot remember some of my earliest movies but I have vague recollections of songs from those movies, for example, “Hum Kale hain to kya huwa dilwale hain..” (I don’t care I am dark-skinned, I have a generous heart) from the movie “Balak”, and “Yeh nargise mastana! basa itni batade tu..” (Hey beautiful! just tell me…) from the blockbuster “Aarju”. Rajendra Kumar, the hero of Aarju was famous and I wanted my mom to part my hair just like Rajendra Kumar’s. I must have been five or six years old. I could sing the songs from these movies and I quickly became the entertainer in my family. There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t humming some tunes from the latest flick. Then in 1969 “Aaradhana” was released, the movie gave rise to the phenomenon “Rajesh Khanna”, who became the first ever Bollywood superstar. He was a romantic hero and sang “Mere sapnoki rani kab aayegi tu..” (The queen of my dreams when will you come to me..”, which instantly became the number one song of the year and declared the supremacy of Kishore Kumar in Hindi music scene. While Kishore had been singing Hindi songs for several years, he played second fiddle to Mohammed Rafi who was hugely popular. 1969 was the beginning of the rise of Kishore Kumar and the declining popularity of Rafi. I was immediately struck by Kishore’s style of singing, his guttural voice and easy manners. I became his fan and to this day, I remain his most loyal fan.
So I started singing “Mere sapno ki rani..” and other Kishore songs. I could sing it well and my talent was quickly recognized at home, in the neighborhood, and at school. I was an eight year old kid, I did not have any inhibitions when it came to singing. If somebody asked me to sing, I would start right away. I don’t know how the school principal found out that I could sing, so when I was in Grade 5 I was asked to sing during school functions. I must have sang well for I was now a fixture at the school’s cultural events. I did not know how to play instruments, something that I would regret later, but I could memorize full verses and then render the songs in a typical Kishore style. Singing led to watching movies, and movies to songs. Some of the most memorable times during that period was the day Crown Prince Dipendra was born. My neighbor Purna Dai took me from home, brought me with him to the ward office (municipal office), which was just next doors from ours, handed me the loudspeaker, have me sit in one of the chairs in the office and instructed me to sing whatever I could and for as long as I could. It was more like the people in my neighborhood wanted to express our happiness on that joyous occasion. I don’t remember how long I sang, but it sure felt like a long day, I must have been their singing non-stop for two-three hours. It was up to me to sing whatever I desired, and that meant singing the ones I knew very well, but also those which I knew only a short verse or so. I sure felt that my neighbors had recognized my talent. Perhaps I was chosen not because I was just a small kid, but I sure had the energy, enthusiasm, the voice and the patience that was demanded of me. Anyway, my rendering of Kishore Kumar’s romantic songs made me a local hero of sorts. From that day onward, everybody in my neighborhood knew me (I was Krishna Baje’s Nati – or my grandfather Krishna’s grandson). One of my friends continues to tease me with the song “Mere sapno ki rani…” whenever we meet.